The Magic Figs

12022329_933572046733385_9056047089503414338_oI absolutely adore figs. I don’t think I’d ever eaten one until I was an adult, and it was the most delightful revelation, all that sweetness and texture and flavor–oh!  They don’t travel particularly well, so the only times to eat them are the short seasons in late spring and early fall when they are finally available in the produce section of the local high-end markets. They don’t grow in Colorado, so they are not even at farmer’s markets.

So I got it into my head to grow a couple of fig trees. I read that you could bring them in to overwinter, so I ordered a couple and put them in pots and–you know, despite all the challenges, they’re doing all right. Kind of scruffy looking–every year, they start leafing out too early in the basement and I have to bring them up into the full light, where then they have to have an adjustment period outside, and drop a bunch of leaves. But I keep trying.

It has been three summers and these two lovely figs are the first harvest off my little hard-scrabble trees. Aren’t they the loveliest figs you’ve ever seen? My friend Mel Scott, fellow painter friend, suggested they should be immortalized in watercolor, and so they should.

Christopher Robin teases me about how much time, money, water, and energy I spend on things I can buy at the grocery store for usually much, much less. But when I cook a pot of new potatoes that I just carried in from the garden, the feeling in my heart is so much bigger and happier than the same new potatoes I picked up at the farmer’s market. They’re all delicious. Mine are just that tiny bit better. The heads of garlic I carry upstairs in January from the cool place in the basement where I set the to cure are imbued with love and sunlight I know, and water I poured on them. They’re local and organic in the most satisfying possible way.  My ears of corn are much smaller than the ones I could buy at the store, but they make me so happy.

This is one of those things gardeners share that others scratch their heads over, but, oh, aren’t they just so very very beautiful?


What I Love 1/365: Cosmos

php4bzcaZAMBlogging has been coming up again for me.  I tried to get going again at the start of this year, but this theme and I are having fights all the time and I don’t like it very much.  I’ve asked my wizardress to find a new one, but in the meantime, let’s get this moving.  I miss blogging.  I like blogging. It’s the one place I feel I can just be myself with all of you, talk about writing or gardening or movies or hiking or whatever and it’s fine for that day.

Someone suggested a theme of what I know for sure as a possibility, but I think I’m going for the Full Love version.  On this lazy, cool Sunday morning, when I have no desire to do much of anything, what I love is cosmos. They’re a humble flower, simple and exuberant, and they grow very well in the high, harsh, short season conditions of Colorado.  In the evenings, this stand dances in the breezes, and every morning, they reach for the sunshine like happy children.  I devote a full square of my garden to them, for pure love.

What is a flower you love? 

On The Goddess Blogs today….

I am in bliss. On every black tarred pavement in every shopping center across the southwest, vendors have set up their chile roasters and spend the day roasting long green chiles for stray motorists who buy them by the bushel to take home and freeze for the long cold winter ahead.  There is nothing I love to smell more than chiles roasting on a summer day. I am a chile fanatic, and this summer I’ve been experimenting with the most dazzling little chile pepper. I must tell you about him, darling creature.  But first–

photoEveryone has their regional foods, and here in the southwest, we have Mexican food.  Everyone has their opinions on Mexican food, right? These days, everybody eats burritos and tacos.  They have corn tortillas in the supermarkets in the midwest and Maine.

But in the west, we are aware that “Mexican food” is not just one thing.  KEEP READING >>>>>

A dog, a ball, and a lake


My brother had a dog named Loki, a black springer spaniel mutt, who loved the water and loved chasing balls. If you combined the two, say a lake and a 1012181_481787078578553_1501958219_nball, he would chase that baby for hours.  Hours.  Until his legs were shaking. Until the sun was setting. Until my brother had to leash him to make him stop.

That’s what exercise should feel like.  Believe it or not, there is an exercise out there that will feel that good to you. Our bodies were designed to move and every single one of us has something that will feel like that spaniel and the ball in the lake

As I’ve said before, I was the anti-PE girl.  And I’m still so uncoordinated that I wouldn’t dare pick up a tennis racket or try to throw a baseball. But this afternoon, I headed out to the garden.  I kept thinking I should go swimming because I’ve been doing it a lot and my massage therapist said that my back looks great, and many of us are headed out to the national RWA conference next week, so I wanted something to keep looking good. Calves and back, that’s what I’ve got. (And forearms, baby. Let me flex my forearms for you sometime. Please?) Everything else is showing its age.

What I did instead of swim was drift out to the garden.  READ MORE  >>>>>

Rituals of Spring

The other day, I bought some tulips at the grocery store.  It was a gloomy day, threatening snow, and they just looked so appealing in their buckets that I gathered up two bouquets and brought them home.

As I was settling them in a vase, a bucket of indirect light poured through the window and glossed the petals.  I peeked into the centers of the flowers, seeing the dark stars at the base of the flowers and the stamens, sturdy and sexy.  I thought about going to get my camera to take some photos.

And then I remembered that I do it every year.  Choose these very flowers—pale pink and orange edged with flame yellow.  I put them in a vase and shoot them against the dark snowy days of April (which just doesn’t even sound right!).  One of my nieces loved one set enough that she had prints made and hung them in her apartment.  One of my own favorites is a tulip reflected in the silver faucet.  And this morning, I shot this one.  Well, actually I shot 46 photos, but this one was one of my favorites.

I also like this one, which looks like a bunch of girls whispering.IMG_4629

It’s a peaceful little ritual, shooting tulips on wintery spring days.  It brings the promise of the coming season a little closer, where I can believe in it.  It brings the light, it brings beauty.

Do you have rituals like this? Has spring arrived in your world yet? If not, what are you doing to keep believing it will come? 

An Early Spring Challenge

greenhouse--my happy placeFinally, there is real spring in the air. You can feel it burning off the cold by eight-thirty, and a brilliance of light makes everything stretch and awaken.  My poppies are up, green and thick, and the daffodils—a bit scrawny so far—and the tulips, looking sturdy.  I’m surprised by a crop of garlic that must be leftover from last year, and not at all sure that the wisteria that’s supposed to overwinter is actually going to do anything.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I have a new experiment.  I’m madly in love with a chubby Spanish pepper called pimento de padron.  I must have had them in Spain when we walked the Camino, but it was later that I started to love them so madly—they’re often served as a tapas plate in Spanish restaurants, and prepared very simply, pan grilled in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt.

That’s it, but every bite is heaven. They are mostly not very hot, but part of the pleasure is in finding the one in ten that has a bite—it explodes in your mouth, spice and heat and salt and oil, and it makes me laugh, every time.

The thing is, we have peppers of every variety you can imagine here.  I could buy habaneros and jalapenos and Anaheims (which we call Pueblo chiles here) and cayennes; I can grow all of those and more from bedding plants sold at the grocery store.

Padrons are not common. I had to search hard to find a place that would ship me some last fall, and they were $17 a pound, plus shipping.  Worth it, but at that price, not something I’d do very often.

Naturally I decided to see if I could grow some.  Logical,  yes?

Problem #1: getting the seeds. I did find some, and ordered from three sources, to see which ones grow best.

Problem #2: peppers need a long growing season, which I do not have.  They also need a very hot bed to germinate, and my greenhouse is not heated.

This was not the easiest challenge.  I bought some heated mats, but they said they kept the temperatures of the soil about 10-15 degrees higher than the room. Not really enough.  I fretted and considered one solution after another.  I bought a space heater, but when it arrived I realized that even if I hung it from the rafters of the greenhouse (not ideal), I’d worry about it melting the walls.  I put it aside for my real greenhouse (which I vow to you I will have by this summer’s end) and went back to brainstorming and combing the web.

Turns out, many people use jugs of water, painted black, but I didn’t have time for that. Another solution is oil heaters, which I happened to have in the basement. I lugged it outside, but it was too tall for the spot it needed to go, and the slope was too much for it to stay stable—another bust.

I finally decided that maybe I was putting too much effort into what is, after all, an experiment with seeds, a little hobby play.  Keep things in perspective, I said. Let’s just see what happens.

I planted the seeds, along with some celery.  One of the leaflets in the padron seeds suggested putting a ¼ inch of water in the bottom of the trays to what will be padron peppershelp conduct heat, so I did. I also made a special trip to Lowe’s to find seedling greenhouse covers, to help keep the heat and water in.  I tucked some potato starts in a black potato bag and put it on the south end, by the tables, hoping it would hold and conduct heat, too.

Then I closed everything up and waited for the storm. (Oh, I didn’t mention that? Yes, a storm came through over the weekend and dropped the temperatures to below freezing.)  The cats slithered in below the plastic and slept in there, so I figured it had to be sort of warm.

By the time the storm passed, I’d stealed myself to find everything inside frozen—but when I opened the window flap to peek in, a rush of warm—not hot, but definitely warm—air poofed out.  Everything was fine!

Nothing is sprouting yet, but I’ll keep you posted.


Tilting toward Spring

It is February which means I have survived the worst month in Colorado, which is always January.  The days are short, ending claustrophobically even before I’ve started dinner, and it is often bitterly cold. The worst is the boring weather–indifferent, icy sunshine pouring from a frozen blue sky, day after day after day.   I ache for snowstorms in January, or cloudy days, or something to break up that endless blah cold.  It isn’t that I hate winter.  I just hate boring January.

And then February arrives and the earth tilts ever so slightly toward summer, and the days progress minute by minute toward dinnertime, then catch it.   In February, it can snow a lot, soaking the ground in readiness for spring.  If we’re lucky, crocuses might start popping up.  The tree branches start to swell.

My gardener’s heart turns to catalogues, oh torturous exercise!  Look at those plump tomatoes, those tender flower sprouts, even the clogs and knee protectors.  I want to go turn the compost just to smell the earth.  I spy the seedling trays and tug them off the winter shelf, wondering when I might be able  READ MORE  on The Goddess Blogs>>>>>>




Putting Summer Away

Before I forget:  Amazon included In the Midnight Rain in an October special, so it’s .99 for the whole month. If you haven’t read it, now is a good time to grab it.

Now…on to the blog….

It’s a slightly overcast morning, and promises to be truly cold and blustery and maybe even snowy tomorrow.  I had the house cleaned thoroughly yesterday—it feels so good to have the house all in order, and the floors cleaned and the bathrooms sparkling.  I love, love, love that.  Once, it would have made me feel guilty.  Now I think about how the young woman who cleans my house has a job and I get a clean house. Good trade.

We had our first freeze on Wednesday night, and all the tomato plants fell over, despite my (half-hearted) attempts to save them with tarps.  I had to collect them all, about 20-25 pounds of green beefsteak and roma tomatoes of many sizes.  I took bags of them to each of my neighbors, and this morning put the rest on the top shelf of the greenhouse window.   They looked so beautiful that I had to run and get my camera to shoot them, finding in me that quiet, that peacefulness that comes to me through the lens of a camera for no reason I can pinpoint.  Maybe it’s the focus, the wordlessness of letting everything go to be in the moment, here, right now.  Maybe it’s the sweetness of beauty, because I do tend to shoot things I think are beautiful.  Some photographers collect gritty or grim or ugly things, but I’ve never been that person.  I love beauty, and flowers and fruits and vegetables, and looking at things closely.

I love the corn in the background, the way the light spills over the silken curves of the tomatoes, the way their shapes are repeated over and over, and the stems add prickliness.

I also like this one:


Garden/kitchen tip: green tomatoes will keep for a long time this way.  Spread a paper towel over a flat window sill and put the tomatoes on top. The last time I did this, I had tomatoes through Christmas.

Now I’ve played long enough and need to turn my focus to writing.  Last night, on the way home from a book club meeting in Woodland Park, I was tangling myself up over the story I’m writing, thinking how to do this and how to do that, and the Girls in the Basement said, “Oh, just stop it!  Just write.  Have some fun, will you?”

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop burdening this poor book with more and more and more expectations and weighing it down with lead bricks of time pressure and twisting and turning and all that other business- and expectation-crap and just let the story emerge as it wishes.  I like these characters!  I love them, honestly.  Lavender and Ruby and Ginny and Noah and the little barn cat and the lavender fields and the chickens.   It’s lovely and sweet and I’m just going to go write now.

What are you up to this weekend?  Is it freezing where you are? Do you know any recipes for green tomatoes?  

How Flowers, A Camera, and The Girls Play Together

This morning I awakened feeling crazy hunger to create, which often happens to me on days like this. It’s cool, with a sweet little breeze carrying autumn. It’s overcast, which is the most important thing.  In a place with so much sunlight, cloudy days are a blessing, quieter somehow, thoughtful.  I walked the dog and found words rolling up, and a dozen plot tangles suddenly and easily resolving themselves.  When I got home, I had to check the corn and beans in the garden. It has not been a great vegetable year, but the flowers are lovely.   In one patch, the lavender is in wild bloom (and I neglected to label which lavender plants I have out there, so I have to remember that the border group blooms late, while the others bloom earlier).

Anyway, somewhere in early summer I saw a tiny patch of lavender and small shell-pink roses growing together, so I copied it, as all gardeners do.  All summer, I probably had this moment in mind, this bottle and the minute bouquet of lavender and the fairy pink rose, sitting in a window with quiet light behind.  To get this particular shot, the very one, the only one, I had to shoot 66 photos.  The light is so low the flash kept going off, and at one point, I pulled a chair over to shoot it from above.  The bottle was sitting next to an empty blue wine bottle from a local winery, which I thought I would love and didn’t.

But finally, I headed up stairs to edit the shoot.  Over and over, I tried adjusting light, crops, tones, details. Some of them are lovely, and I might print a trio to put side by side in a frame.  This one, however, didn’t need anything much.  I tweaked the light the teeniest bit, but that’s it.  Just as it was, it was fine.

As I printed it, I realized that Ruby–one of the main characters in the MIP– who is mourning a lost love and wishing for something else, heads out to the lavender fields and finds the little roses.  She cuts them and arranges them in tiny bottles for her friends.

All the details we write come from within us somewhere, memories and images, colors and scents and conversational tics. It’s also true that we weave the everyday into the pages, so much so that when I go back to read my earlier books, I’m overwhelmed by the taste of those particular months I was writing. Some are impossible to read for this reason, but maybe when I’m very old, I’ll like going back and living in them, thinking and remembering.

Or not.

A good lesson for me this morning.  I’ve been so rigidly on producing pages, producing pages, that I forgot this is how I work.  I walk around. I take a picture.  I write a blog, and the book blooms behind me, full and heavily scented.

Do you ever find problems solve themselves when you look away?  Or a worry dissolves if you stop twisting it and twisting it? 

One Ripe Peach

I heard the unsettling news that an old friend died suddenly last January.  We were in college together, and he was part of the Cantina gang, many of us Mass Comm majors at CSU Pueblo.  We talked about having lunch, taking time to catch up, but you know…we didn’t.  It was disconcerting that he died so suddenly, and also that I didn’t hear about it for such a long time.

Another friend from that same group is desperately ill, and I’ve struggled a lot this year with the sudden, extreme illness of a another friend.

And then, I found a hummingbird, dead and eviserated on my dining room floor.  I’d been hoping it was too fast for the cats, but clearly, they got him.  I was quite upset by it.

So I wandered out to the garden to water the lilacs and the peach tree. (What a long hot summer it has been!)  It’s all in full, intense, maturity at the moment, everything big and sturdy and fertile.  The peach tree is so heavily laden with peaches that the branches are bending over, touching the ground, and every day I test them gently to see if any of them are ripe.  I have to say, they are not the most perfect peaches that have ever been grown.  They are smallish and most of them have marks from the endless hailstorm that fell for three hours one June twilight.

But they are my peaches, from the tree I have been tending carefully, so to me they are beautiful.  I stood next to the tree and thanked her, once again, for all she’s had to endure, and as if to nudge me back, she offered a hidden peach, one growing in a protected spot near her belly.  I reached for it, and it fell off right into my palm–furry and ruddy, all the soft green gone from the skin.  One hailstone injured it, but the peach grew around the spot, giving it a dimple.  In the store, you might pass this peach over for one that was more perfectly symmetrical.  I held it in my palm, marveling at all the days it grew, all the days of this very specific summer.  I ran it under the water and bit into the furry round side, and the taste of this very summer, the cold hail and the hot hot days and even the smoke were there, in the flesh, each day bringing its own gift to the flesh, to the sweetness.  It was every so slightly warm, and juice burst into my mouth, ran down my chin and down my arm.  I stood next to my friend the peach tree and let her see how much I appreciated the gift, how lovely it was, this very singular, very ordinary, unique peach, the only one just like itself in all the world.

I looked over the garden to the swing, took in the brussels and sunflowers and the swing at the far end, and knew that in grieving my friend and the hummingbird, I’m also grieving the fact taht someday I have to leave this plane, too.

But right now, with peach juice running down my chin and arm, I am alive.  I have this moment, this very summer, this very singular, very ordinary day. And that’s enough.